In this 8020Info Water Cooler we look at the art of explanation, the roles of safety and clarity in innovation work, tips for coaching and reviewing performance, three distinct roles for system partners, and providing your board with a better agenda package. Enjoy!


1. Communication Secrets of The Explainer

Ros Atkins might be called The Explainer. He hosts the BBC Explainer series and is author of a new book, The Art of Explanation.  As he told the McKinsey Author Talks series, he believes explaining starts with understanding.

 “When I feel myself not communicating as clearly as I would like to, not using precise language, with a single person, a group of people, or an audience on TV, generally, it means that I haven’t understood two things completely: ‘What specifically am I trying to communicate?’ and ‘have I properly understood the details of that subject and how I’m going to express myself on them?’”

You will usually feel a signal of discomfort in places where the explanation may be wobbly and you must get more information to help you. Understanding the subject and explaining it go hand in hand.

But in explaining it, you must sound like yourself — not like the preparatory materials you gathered.

“Whether we communicate [effectively] or not is in some way related to whether the people we’re communicating with trust us, whether they see us as a credible source of the information we’re sharing,” he says.

You must be authentic – if you’re trying to come off as something beyond what feels natural, they’ll pick up on that.

He also recommends a “hands plan.”

Often when we get to the information that matters the most, we become excited and create distractions. In a talk, that can be hand movements; in written communication, extra or unnecessary verbiage. Both get in the way of explaining.

2. Getting the Board Data Pack Right

A big problem in holding executives of an organization accountable involves an asymmetry — they have a lot more information than the board of directors.

According to two veteran board members who co-authored the book Board Talks, the solution lies in using the right kind of data to focus board scrutiny.

The board must specify key indicators to be reported, typically based on the organization’s strategy. Ideally they should also convey a sense of the rate of progress expected on those metrics.

A danger is wanting too much information, as when board members want to feel as knowledgeable as those executives.

“Boards might usefully ask themselves whether they are getting too much data — obscuring the focus on things that matter — rather than too little,” write Kathryn Bishop and Gillian Camm.

They say more information can help, but only to a point — beyond that, it becomes overload and no longer leads to better decisions. The board must make sure it is getting data at the right level of detail.

The test of information’s value, the authors say, is whether an analysis or report helps the board to see if it is on course in implementing its strategies.

That’s why using a template can be helpful if it ensures each paper covers the connection to the overarching organizational purpose and strategy; the impact on staff, customers and other parties; and any changes to the risk profile.

They also say the board pack must contain a sensible balance between facts and interpretations of facts, and distinguish between those two types of information.

3. A Formula for Workplace Innovation

Safety first, clarity next. That’s the formula for workplace innovation according to consultants Karin Hurt and David Dye.

We’ve heard a lot about psychological safety in recent years: People have to be confident that they won’t suffer negative consequences for raising ideas. But less is said about clarity.

The consultants ran two experiments with clients that illuminated its importance. In one, they told teams to bring any practical ideas for organizational improvement and saw lots of great brainstorming with some fun elements and skill-building — but only a little actual change.

In the second situation, leaders clearly outlined the areas in which they wanted to see innovation and set the ground rules. The number of implementable ideas increased, and team members also felt their input had a more direct impact.

“Setting boundaries didn’t limit creativity; it channeled it,” the consultants write in SmartBrief.

But keep in mind that high clarity in a low-safety environment results in ideas remaining invisible — they aren’t brought forward. To generate remarkable, on-target ideas, you need both psychological safety and clarity of focus.

4. Improving your Performance Reviews

To make your performance reviews more effective, tech executive Molly Graham advises spending more time than you think you will need with your high performers.

“It’s really easy to think, ‘that person is so strong, they just take care of themselves. I’ll go focus on the rest of my team.’ But I firmly believe that the majority of my time and coaching energy should actually go into people who are high-performing,” she writes in The First Round Review.

Give them stretch goals and big challenges. Just as you tell other folks what you expect in future, tell them when they have done great work and what you want to see next.


5. Zingers

  • Don’t Be a Tip-Toe Leader: Executive coach Dan Rockwell says tip-toe behaviour prolongs problems by producing tip-toe solutions. Such leaders worry too much about personalities, politics, and public perception. You can’t ignore those issues, but don’t make them central to your leadership. (Source: LeadershipFreak).
  • Painting a Brand: Marketing consultant Donald Cooper says creating a brand is like painting a picture your target customers want to be in: “Understand who they are, what they want, what they value and what they fear… then paint a beautiful and compelling brand picture for them.”  (Source: DonaldCooper.com).
  • Be Proactive on Burnout: Babson College Management professor Emily Rosado-Solomon says organizations have to stop being reactive to burnout and other mental health issues. Do offer support after an issue is reported, but become proactive, tackling underlying issues that cause poor mental health like murkiness over responsibilities, insufficient flexibility, or lack of autonomy and ownership over decisions involved in their own work. (Source: CharterWorks).
  • Measuring vs. Evaluating: Consultant Shreyas Doshi finds it hard to use metrics for how he’s doing as a parent yet he can constantly evaluate his progress. Similarly, at work, we need to jettison the notion that if you can’t measure something, you can’t improve it. In some cases, general evaluation of how something is going is sufficient (and too much focus on measuring might lead to improving the measurement but not improving the underlying activity or behaviour). (Source: FS Blog).
  • It’s Easy to Encourage: Entrepreneur Seth Godin notes there are thousands of ways to express encouragement, enthusiasm and support, with few involving much inconvenience. If we want things to get better, it helps to encourage people who are eager to make things better. (Source: Seth’s Blog).

6. The List: 10 Things Good Coaches Do

Managers must be good coaches these days. Here’s 10 things consultant Braden Kelly observes in good coaches:

  • Good coaches listen to you. They don’t judge; they just listen.
  • Good coaches tell you what you can do better. They do that in private, however.
  • Good coaches pick you up off the floor. They know that getting knocked down is part of the game.
  • Good coaches never scream at you. But they will cry with you.
  • Good coaches learn from you. The best coaches tell you when that happens.
  • Good coaches have played the game and made mistakes. That’s why they are good coaches.
  • Good coaches do what’s in your best interest. Not theirs.
  • Good coaches are sometimes wrong. The best ones tell you when that happens.
  • Good coaches don’t care what others think of them. But they care deeply about you.
  • Good coaches are generous with their time.

– Source: BradenKelley.com


7.  Around Our Water Cooler


Specialized Roles for Collaborating Partners

We’ve observed what may be an emerging pattern — system partners negotiating a unique mix of functional roles to pursue projects beyond their own scope, make better use of their skills and resources, or enhance service delivery in a system.

A case in point might involve a large-scale capital project — perhaps development of an arts or recreation centre, a facility for different organizations serving similar clients, a multi-function healthcare clinic, or a campus of social service partners.

We’re seeing three distinct but complementary roles for partner specialization:

Building Large-Scale Infrastructure, Not Managing Programs

A partner who has the capital or debt capacity may focus only on constructing, owning and maintaining the facility, without taking on the role of delivering community programs and services themselves. Municipalities often shine in this role when it involves public infrastructure.

A Single Focus: Delivering Programs and Services

One or more partners in the group may provide the programs offered at a facility. Relieved of concerns about property management, fundraising or debt financing, they can concentrate on their core competency — delivering client services.

Consolidating and Scaling Back-office Functions

Numerous smaller agencies are looking at strategic alliances to centralize or share administrative functions such as finance, human resources, legal services, information technology, and occasionally training or organizational development.

In this area, we’ve noticed two main models of interest:

  • One involves two or more organizations sharing complementary but distinct administrative roles — “We’ll handle your HR (our forte), and you manage our financial or payroll operations (your forte).”
  • In other instances, partners may seek to establish a completely separate entity to provide all of the group’s back-office functions on a long-term fee-for-service basis. (Better scale may also create capacity to help smaller organizations address their “jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none” woes.)

These areas of specialization— programming, back-office, and infrastructure — are akin to departments in large organizations. The novelty lies in the evolution of strategic collaborations where independent partners assume interdependent functional roles to develop service facilities, benefit from shared expertise and unlock efficiencies of scale.

What We’re Reading:

  • Harvey’s Pick: Hidden Potential by well-known Wharton School psychologist Adam Grant is a wide-ranging look at how to achieve great things, individually and collectively. He shares personal insights, stories of successful people, and the latest research.
  • Rob’s Pick: We often reference Farnam Street’s Shane Parish in this newsletter. In his latest best-selling book,  he tackles a persistent problem: most of us run on autopilot — on behavioural defaults groomed by biology, evolution and culture. Clear Thinking gives us tools to optimize our decision-making, gain competitive advantage, and live more intentional lives.


●  §  ●

8020Info helps senior leadership teams and boards develop, clarify and build consensus behind strategic priorities. Our services support strategic planning and change processes, marketing communications and research / stakeholder consultations. We would be pleased to discuss your needs and welcome enquiries.

8.  Closing Thought

“Obstacles are challenges for winners, and excuses for losers.”

Marijane Meaker, under her pseudonym M.E. Kerr


Tagged , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Vol-23_No-16_Nov-13-2023



This is a line break